There are three levels at which to play the political game. They are the local (the bottom level), state (middle), and national (the top level). Each step up the ladder takes more effort, adds more risks, and can lead to more rewards. Not surprisingly, those higher up on the ladder contain more power than those on the lower rungs.
As far as the legalization of low-power radio goes, there's different activity at different levels - and each one paints a unique perspective on how its political game is being played out. Surprisingly, much of the action is happening in Michigan.
Starting locally, Tom Ness and his merry band of walking civics lessons at the Michigan Music is World Class Campaign have been busy bringing the issue before city councils, township boards and other bodies of local government. The goal is to collect resolutions - official documents by a government body that don't set policy, but do express an "official opinion" on an issue or cause.
Ness and company have collected nearly 20 resolutions from places ranging from the nine thousand-person metropolis of Howell to the million-resident metroplex of Detroit.
Armed with success at the local level (and more than 4,000 letters from Michigan citizens supporting LPFM), the handful of activists headed off to Lansing, the state capitol for the spring session. They have been trying to get both houses of the Michigan State Legislature to go on record in support of low power radio.
Unfortunately, it is at the state level where the influence of radio station owners and managers begins to be felt, and Michigan is no different. The Michigan Association of Broadcasters' lobbying team swung into action, causing one critical supporter of the resolutions (HR 67 and SR 73) to waver, and convincing others vote against them.
A week-long flurry of phone calls, emails and faxes from across the United States did nothing to sway these politicians. This second effort to get resolutions from the Michigan Legislature in support of low power radio ended up in the trash before even making it to the floor.
Which brings us to LPFM politics on the national level. While the FCC continues to grind its bureaucratic wheels, Michigan Music is World Class was able to convince a Congressman to pass a "letter of support" for LPFM around to his colleagues. He got 28 of his colleagues to sign on.
While this is even less binding than a resolution, it does begin to lay the groundwork for one.
However, the power of organized political action by the broadcast industry is coming to bear. The NAB paid a nasty visit to the unlucky Representative who sponsored the letter, and his support is said to be wavering. Meanwhile, a Congressman with an influential position on Capitol Hill, but already bought and paid for by the NAB, has promised destruction of low power radio if it reaches his turf.
The political picture seems to get bleaker as one climbs higher, but there's still lots of time to change it - provided there's more people like Tom out there.